Bethany Clough

Former Pardini’s Cafe reborn as new restaurant

Chef Jimmy Pardini is obsessed with eggs.

He searched for months for the perfect-tasting free-range egg to make into pasta at his new restaurant. When he finally found the one, it was “like Christmas morning,” he says.

On a recent afternoon he used his fingers to twirl the eggs into a mound of flour to make pasta, the yolks so bright they turned the dough the color of a daffodil.

“It just makes a beautiful pasta,” he says.

That attention to detail and focus on food made from scratch happens a lot at The Annex Kitchen.

The Italian-inspired restaurant is scheduled to open June 23. It’s in the former Pardini’s Cafe at 2257 W. Shaw Avenue, but the interior has been so drastically remodeled you may not recognize it.

You also may not know the faces running the restaurant either. Brothers Jimmy and Jeff Pardini, 32 and 29, are behind The Annex Kitchen.

Sons of Jim Pardini and grandkids of Al, they’re part of the Pardini family that has spent decades running restaurants and a catering business in Fresno. Their dad is providing the finances — and advice — but this restaurant is driven by the younger generation.

When it opens, the Annex will serve pasta made from scratch, pizza cooked in a wood-fired oven, steak cooked on wood-fired grill, kale pasta and meatballs from meat ground in the kitchen. Most of the dishes will range from $15 to $30.

The bar will serve cocktails reminiscent of the Prohibition era. Some are aged for weeks in small barrels and some are made with limoncello liquor and the lemon zest at the restaurant.

Dad Jim Pardini has spent 45 years in the restaurant and catering business and says this is something different.

“I’ve had lots and lots of restaurants over the years,” he says. “It’s a total departure from anything I’ve ever done.”

It’s also a homecoming for the chef.

Brothers Jimmy and Jeff both went to college in Los Angeles. Jeff came home and joined the family business, overseeing Pardini’s concessions operation, which provides food at Fresno State athletic facilities and handles all the alcohol served at the Big Fresno Fair.

Jimmy became a chef. He left Fresno for 10 years and worked at Osteria Mozza, an award-winning Los Angeles restaurant owned by Mario Batali and Nancy Silverton.

He traveled to Italy multiple times and fell in love with its food.

“I was always trying to get Jimmy to come home,” Jeff says. “Come join the family business.”

He finally did, deciding that this was a good place for him and his wife to raise a family and that he wanted to be part of the family business.

Fast forward a few years and the brothers are close to opening the restaurant.

Jeff handles the business side of things. He’s the numbers guy who’s good at math. Jimmy handles the food, putting his own spin on Italian food, describing it as “simple, seasonal and from scratch.”

The name The Annex Kitchen stems from the restaurant, which was literally an addition to what is now a banquet facility. Al Pardini opened it in 1972 as Pardini’s Coffee Shop, a 24-hour place serving comfort food. It was sold in 1981 and became nightclub/restaurant Knock Three Times.

Jim Pardini bought it back in the 1990s and it turned into Pardini’s Cafe. It’s been closed for the last year while they ripped out the old-school booths and the breakfast bar.

Now, The Annex Kitchen has a modern look, with circular booths and a granite bar. The brick, ceiling beams and floor are original, just had to be uncovered. Ceramic pendant lights were made by Fresno sculptor Stan Bitters.

The restaurant will open just as the next generation of Pardinis is making its way into the world. Jimmy’s first baby, a son, was born 2 1/2 weeks ago. Jeff’s first baby, a girl, is due to make her arrival in August.